This morning (7 February), after the meeting on the Syria chemical weapons track, Security Council members are expected to hold a meeting on Mali under “any other business”. Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UK, and the US requested the meeting to discuss recent developments, including the 5 February decision by Malian authorities to expel Guillaume Ngefa-Atondoko Andali, the Director of the Human Rights Division of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mali. Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix is expected to brief. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and head of the UN Human Rights Office in New York Ilze Brands Kehris will also be present at the meeting.
Mali’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in a 5 February communiqué that the transitional authorities had declared Ngefa persona non grata, giving him 48 hours to leave the country. The communiqué asserted that Ngefa has been involved in selecting civil society representatives for several Security Council briefings, including the representative who briefed the Council at its 27 January Mali meeting. At that meeting, Malian civil society representative Aminata Cheick Dicko briefed via videoconference.
Dicko is the vice president of the non-governmental organisation l’Observatoire Kisal, which defends the human rights of pastoralist communities in the Sahel region. During her briefing, Dicko criticised the “mixed results” of Mali’s increased counter-terrorism operations “in relation to human rights”, singling out the activities of Russian forces. “The presence of Russian military forces alongside our Malian forces, whose bravery is to be commended, far from helps matters”, according to Dicko. She asserted that these forces are “involved in committing serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law” and “target the property of the civilian population and dispossess communities of their livestock”. Dicko called on Malian authorities to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes, to respect civil liberties and the democratic space during the ongoing political transition, and to strengthen cooperation with MINUSMA in order to protect civilians and combat terrorist groups.
Previously, Dicko and l’Observatoire Kisal helped reveal that a French airstrike was responsible for killing at least 19 civilians at a wedding party in the town of Bounti in central Mali in January 2021. A 30 March 2021 report by MINUSMA’s Human Rights Division confirmed these allegations.
Mali’s Transitional Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdoulaye Diop, who represented Mali at the 27 January briefing, concluded his intervention by expressing his displeasure over Dicko’s participation. He said: “[w]e do not know that person, the organization she represents or whose behalf she was speaking, and we naturally doubt her representativeness and credibility in appearing before the Council.” Diop suggested that some Council members had invited Dicko to serve “hidden agendas”. In the closed consultations following the public session, several Council members apparently expressed concerns about Diop’s remarks and emphasised the need to monitor Dicko’s safety and security.
The Malian foreign ministry’s 5 February communiqué repeated messages similar to Diop’s 27 January comments, asserting that Dicko represented an “undeclared foreign association and has no right to practice in Mali”. The communiqué further claimed that Ngefa has “never succeeded in proving the objective criteria” that he uses to identify civil society briefers.
Since the 27 January briefing, Dicko has reportedly been the target of threats and a misinformation campaign on social media. A 3 February article by the French media outlet Radio France International reported that a legal complaint has been filed against Dicko in Bamako by the Collectif pour la défense des militaires (CDM), or the Collective for the Defense of the Military, an organisation that reportedly supports the Malian transitional authorities and armed forces. The police had also recently visited her home, although Dicko was not present there at the time.
In a 6 February statement, MINUSMA said that it “deeply regrets” Mali’s decision to expel Ngefa, while reaffirming its commitment to continue to work impartially to implement its mandate to promote and protect human rights. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said that he has been “very troubled by the intimidation and harassment [Ngefa] has faced in social media in recent months”, and called on Mali’s transitional authorities to reverse their decision “without delay”. Türk’s statement added that the UN has long maintained that the doctrine of persona non grata is not applicable to UN personnel, which is contrary to the obligations of member states under the UN Charter, including those concerning the privileges and immunities of the UN and its staff.
At today’s meeting, the Council members which requested the meeting may stress that the response to Dicko’s 27 January briefing is not acceptable—a message that they may want the UN to transmit to Malian authorities. Several members may further reiterate that UN officials cannot be declared persona non grata. These members may express concerns that Mali’s decision to expel Ngefa runs contrary to the Secretary-General’s 16 January report of the internal review of MINUSMA, which emphasised that for the mission to continue operating it must be able to effectively implement its human rights mandate.
The internal review sets out options for the future configuration of MINUSMA that the Council will consider ahead of the mission’s upcoming mandate renewal in June. In light of the growing difficulties this past year between the host country and MINUSMA, the review says that key conditions must be met for the mission to continue, including MINUSMA’s freedom of movement and its ability to implement its entire mandate, including its human rights provisions. It suggests that the Council consider withdrawing the peacekeeping operation’s uniformed personnel and converting MINUSMA into a special political mission based in Bamako if these conditions are not met. (For more information on the internal review, see our 26 January What’s in Blue story.)
Allegations about human rights and international humanitarian law violations during counter-terrorism operations in Mali have been documented in a number of UN and civil society reports. Most recently, on 31 January, several independent UN human rights experts issued a statement calling for an immediate independent investigation into gross human rights abuses and possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Mali by government forces and the Russian private military contractor known as the Wagner Group since 2021. “The lack of transparency and ambiguity over the legal status of the Wagner Group, combined with reprisals against those daring to speak out, create an overall climate of terror and complete impunity for victims of the Wagner Group’s abuses”, according to the statement.
The UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali, Alioune Tine, was expected to start an official visit to Mali from 6 to 17 February 2023. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Mali yesterday (6 February) for talks with Malian authorities.
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